(Photo courtesy of Pure Publicity)
Q&A: Tara Royer Steele
By Sarah Komisky
Tara Royer Steele is a historymaker, but she doesn’t think so. Surviving financial loss, family friction, and a tumultuous marriage, Steele went from waitressing as a twelve-year-old at her family’s café, to creating establishments of her own – Royers Pie Haven and Royers Bake Shop. The latter being a commercial pie baking kitchen where she and her new husband, Rick, currently produce all the pies for the haven, café, catering and mail orders. Yep, her story definitely speaks otherwise. To Steele, the café in her words is “a place to meet people where they are, love ‘em like Jesus, and share a yummy meal together.” In addition, this entrepreneur also authored her own book entitled “Eat. Pie. Love.” A book that released just before the COVID-19 crisis hit, changing Steele’s plans and dreams significantly. However, as Steele chose to press into God’s plans, she began to make history – pie in hand. Here is her story how she once again rose above when odds were against her as a small business owner in a rural town. This is the story of what happened when she chose to embrace the opportunity to serve her local community.
For those who aren’t familiar, share a little bit about how you got started in the food industry and where it led you today?
Tara: In the late ‘80s when the oil busted in Houston, my dad lost his job from the original Ninfa’s on navigation. My mom taught 60 piano students a week, while my dad painted houses to help support our family of six. Entrepreneurship started early in our family! Even though our finances were tight, my parents made sure we gathered around the table together for dinner. My dad loved cooking, creating simple meals with lots of depth in flavor. One day, we took a road trip to Round Top, Texas, only 90 miles down the road. We played on the courthouse square and enjoyed a juicy hamburger at the Round Top Café. The weary owner watched my dad enjoy his meal but could tell he was itching to jump in and help. She told her husband, “that’s the guy to take over the café, I can’t do this anymore.” They approached my parents and made them an offer, “take over the café, we will give you $250 in the cash register and work out the payment plan.” My parents took that leap of faith and we were the proud owners of a country café in a town of 90 people. Our family definitely didn’t pick pie––God picked pie for our family. Pie, family and Jesus have been the common thread through it all. Rick and I no longer own the café; my brother and his wife run it now.
I know you are a person of faith. You said that during this global pandemic, God really made it clear to you to start using your commercial kitchen to make daily meals for families during this crisis. Talk about Feed His People and what that means to you.
Tara: When COVID-19 hit, I was launching my new book, Eat. Pie. Love. Book signings and speaking events lined up. Antique weeks were beginning, and our freezers were filled with over 2000 pies. Antique weeks have been going on for over 50 years. Our tiny town fills with over 250,000 people and 30,000 vendors fill the fields. During that time, we do 25% of our yearly sales, too. Then, everything canceled. Years, months, weeks and days of work preparation all stopped. Our team was standing in the bake shop, shocked, numb, and at a loss, but ready and willing to move. We were all thinking the same thing, ‘our freezer is full of pies, but what can we do to feed His people right now? We can still get food. We’ve always wanted to make casseroles for families on busy weeknights; let’s feed His people.’ That was a Monday. By Wednesday, we had meals ready. We felt like our skills we had learned from being in the café taught us how to mass produce food and endure long hours on our feet – let’s use what we have! I was used to writing, painting, podcasting, and I thought I wanted to speak and share all over. God took a dream we have always had, but didn’t have the time or space to do, and created that margin. He has showed me what dreams were mine, and what dreams are His.
God called you to use your commercial kitchen that wasn’t being used to help others. In turn, how do you want to encourage others to use what they have at their grasp to help others in their community during this difficult season?
Tara: I’m a numbers girl. I’ve struggled with how sales were in the business, how many people came to a catering, how can we do more so we grow bigger. It’s a daily struggle that I have to reel myself back into God’s numbers, not mine. He doesn’t care how many people I serve, or how many people buy my book, or how many followers I have on social media, or how we can grow our business bigger by looking beyond my back door. He cares that I show up in faithfulness and will bring the people, even if it’s one.
Our magazine theme this month is “Historymakers” and I love that you are one of our friends that we get to talk to because you are making history in this moment! Tell us, what’s on the menu currently and what inspired the new menu at Royers Pie Haven?
Tara: The menus and meals we are putting out weekly for Royers Bake Shop are helping keep The Haven doors open. The Haven already had yummy savory pies: Chicken Pot Pies, Shepherd’s Pie, Chicken Margherita Pizza Pies, and The Hee-haw. Everyone loves the savory pies, they feel like home, and comfort! I love getting to create weekly menus and try new recipes! At The Pie Haven, I had to keep things in the same lane, pie related. At the bake shop, I can try anything I want! Banana Pudding, Brookies, Blondies, Chicken Alfredo, Chicken Parmesan, Pizza Casserole, whatever you can dream up!
You are serving locally in your community. On your website you said, “God uses something so small as pie to build relationships and further His kingdom.” How have you seen that come to fruition currently?
Tara: If you build, He will bring them. He has brought the people every day. We are streamlining this new dream to do meals Wednesday-Friday so that we incorporate this for the future! We know that we will start baking pies again, but we want to keep serving His people meals too! Everyone is so excited at the thought of having meals ready for busy school and sport nights!
Personally, what is something God is speaking to you about when it comes to serving others at this time?
Tara: God is showing me that I don’t want to go back to the old ways of doing things. I want to keep this new normal. The land the bake shop sits on is seven acres. It’s where we want to build a barn for gatherings, events, cooking, build places for people to come rest. He’s showing me that being on this holy land is where we are supposed to be.
Social distancing has us creatively finding ways to stay connected and cultivate togetherness. What are some ways people can connect when it comes to coming to the table even when we are in quarantine?
Tara: Well, my kids tell me they ate better at home before we started cooking like this! Some ideas are: picnics in the backyard, movie night hot dogs, popcorn, and bags of candy, asking your neighbors to eat in the front yard, doing a virtual dinner with family, and taking a drive to the country to get pie!
We LOVE your yummy pies and foods! Is there something on the menu that is your favorite to make?
Tara: Junkberry dumplings might be my new favorite…it’s our junkberry pie filling with dumplings!
In this time, many are trying new things like baking and cooking! For newbies, what are some simple ways we can enjoy cooking at home?
Tara: Well, don’t make it complicated. Use what you have. I’ll tell you a secret, all our fruit pies are made with frozen fruit!! In cooking, whatever spices the recipe calls for, double it! It’s like an extra scoop of Jesus.
Your book, “Eat. Pie. Love.” includes a few recipes. What’s one recipe you can share with us that we could try out?
Tara: Texas Trash-
- 1 cup of crushed graham crackers
- 1 cup of caramel bits
- 1 cup of chocolate chips or white chocolate chips
- 1 cup of crushed pretzels
- 1 cup of coconut flakes
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
Combine and toss in an unbaked 9” pie shell. Bake at 300 for 45 mins. Top with Vanilla Ice Cream